SATA vs PCIe Compared: Which is the Better Interface?

Do you wish to know which is the better connection interface between SATA and PCIe? Read through this SATA vs PCIe comparison article to get all the information you need about these interfaces. 

SATA vs PCIe Compared Which Is The Better Connection Interface

This comparison article starts with an overview of both connection interfaces. After that, we will be discussing how they work compared to each other. 

That’s not all; we will also be talking about as well as comparing various features of SATA and PCIe. In addition to that, I will also talk about some benefits and disadvantages of SATA and PCIe. 

So, I advise you to read this article thoroughly to avoid missing any vital information about these connection interfaces. 


SATA vs PCIe: Overview

To start with, SATA and PCIe are usually referred to based on the drives they support. However, they are actually an interface medium used to connect the drives to a host device like a computer. 

SATA is an abbreviation for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. Furthermore, it’s an L-shaped interface that connects optical drives, HDDs, and SSDs to a computer’s motherboard. 

In addition to that, SATA hard disk drives (HDD) come in 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch sizes. Meanwhile, SATA solid-state drives (SSD) mostly come in 2.5-inch sizes. 

Besides, SATA has gone through a generation of developments. However, SATA 3.0 is the most common and is the typical interface for mainstream SSDs and high-end HDDs. 

That’s not all, SATA was released in 2000 in order to provide several advantages over the previous PATA interface. Thus, a SATA drive performs better than a PATA drive. 

That said, PCIe is the abbreviation for Peripheral Component Interconnect Express. However, unlike SATA, it is a multifaceted high-speed bus standard interface created by the PCI Special Interest Group (PCI-SIG).

Furthermore, it was introduced in 2003 and designed to replace older bus standards including PCI-X, PCI, and AGP. Moreover, you will mostly find PCIe interfaces on modern motherboards. 

Hence, older computers with old motherboards can’t use PCIe devices. Speaking of devices, PCIe connects peripheral devices like graphics cards, sound cards, and even SSD to a PC’s motherboard. 

Furthermore, similar to the SATA interface, PCIe has different generations. The most recent generation is the PCIe 6.0 which was announced on January 11, 2022. 

However, according to the PCI-SIG, PCIe 6.0 won’t hit the market until 12 to 18 months after its announcement. Hence, before you get to see a PCIe 6.0 interface, it will be around early 2023. 

Nevertheless, it is worth the wait. This is because PCIe 6.0 offers improved bandwidth, lower latency, and enhanced speed compared to older PCIe generations. 

Regardless, like the SATA interface, PCIe 3.0 is the commonly used PCIe generation in computer motherboards. Besides, it was still very much in use when I published this article in June 2022. 

SATA vs PCIe: How They Work Compared

Starting off, SATA connects a drive to a computer’s motherboard with a seven-pin data connector and fifteen-pin power connector. SATA connectors are cables that can either be right-angled, straight, or left-angled. 

Furthermore, the data connector connects from the drive’s data port to the relevant port on the motherboard. Meanwhile, the power connector connects from the drive’s power port to the computer’s power source.

However, the SATA data connector can only transmit/receive data one bit at a time between a SATA drive and the computer. PCIe, on the other hand, is capable of transmitting and receiving eight-bit data packets at the same time. 

That’s why speed is a major advantage PCIe drives have over SATA drives. How is the PCIe interface able to transmit and receive eight-bit data packets simultaneously, though?

Well, it does that with the help of data connectors called “lanes”. Besides, unlike SATA, the data connector also doubles as a power connector.

Moreover, a single lane features about four wires – two wires for transmitting data and the remaining two for receiving data. 

Also, a PCIe interface can have up to 32 lanes. Hence, the more lanes a PCIe interface features, the faster it will be able to transmit and receive data.  

Thus, a device connected to a PCIe x32 interface will be faster than a device connected to a PCIe x1 interface. By the way, “x32” and “x1” represents the number of lanes. 

However, you will hardly come across a consumer-based PCIe device that supports up to 32 lanes or 16 lanes. In essence, consumer-based PCIe devices mostly support four lanes or two lanes.

If you could remember, I mentioned in the previous section that PCIe 3.0 is the most commonly used PCIe generation. Well, it also has an effective transfer speed, which is about 985 MB/s per lane. 

Hence, a PCIe 3.0 SSD that supports four lanes should have a transfer speed of about 3.94 GB/s. That’s way above the transfer speed of SATA 3.0 SSDs. 

Speaking of which, a SATA 3.0 SSD has a transfer rate of 600 MB/s. Although this transfer speed is decently fast, it is nowhere near that of a PCIe 3.0 SSD with four or two lanes.

SATA vs PCIe: Features Compared

SATA vs PCIe: Features Compared

Now that we know how SATA and PCIe work, we will be comparing some of their features in this section. These features include:

They Have Multiple Generations with Backward Compatibility

SATA has about three major generations and five sub-generations. These generations include SATA 1.0, SATA 2.0, and SATA 3.0. 

Meanwhile, the sub-generations include SATA 3.1, SATA 3.2, SATA 3.3, SATA 3.4, and SATA 3.5. PCIe, on the other hand, has six generations and three sub-generations. 

These generations are PCIe 1.0, PCIe 2.0, PCIe 3.0, PCIe 4.0, PCIe 5.0, PCIe 6.0. Likewise, the sub-generations include PCIe 1.1, PCIe 2.1, and PCIe 3.1

Apparently, newer generations and sub-generations have improved performance and speed than older generations and sub-generations. However, the most common generations are SATA 3.0 and PCIe 3.0.

SATA Have Separate Connectors for Data and Power While PCIe Connectors Do Both

SATA features two connectors – one for transferring/receiving data while the other for power. On the contrary, PCIe features connectors (lanes) for data transfer that double as the power connector. 

PCIe Drives are Faster than SATA Drives

PCIe drives are able to transfer and receive about eight-bit packets simultaneously. SATA drives, however, are only able to transfer and receive one bit of data at a time. 

Hence, since PCIe drives can transfer/data more data at the same time, they will be faster than SATA drives. Besides, a PCIe 3.0 drive offers a transfer speed of about 985 MB/s per lane. 

This is above the 600 MB/s transfer speed of a SATA 3.0 drive. Moreover, if the PCIe drive supports more lanes, its transfer speed will be way faster. 

SATA is Compatible with Most Computers While PCIe Isn’t

The PCIe interface is mostly found in modern motherboards. Hence, older computers don’t feature a PCIe interface. 

However, that’s not the case for the SATA interface. Basically, you can find the SATA interface on most computers including old ones. 

Thus, you can use a SATA HDD or SSD on almost every computer.

SATA Mostly Supports Storage Drives While PCIe Supports Numerous Devices

The SATA interface mostly works with storage drives such as optical drives, solid-state drives (SSD), and hard disk drives (HDD). Meanwhile, the PCIe interface supports different devices ranging from graphics cards to Wi-Fi cards and sound cards. 

As a matter of fact, the PCIe interface also supports SSD.

SATA vs PCIe: Pros and Cons Compared

In this section, we will be comparing the advantages and disadvantages of the SATA interface and PCIe interface. 

Pros of SATA vs PCIe 

  1. Both SATA and PCIe support hot-plugging (Hot Swapping). SATA drives and PCIe drives are hot-pluggable. 

    Therefore, you can add/remove a SATA drive or PCIe drive in your computer without needing to shut down the computer. In fact, the computer’s operating system will automatically recognize the change.

    However, if your computer itself doesn’t support hot-plugging, this feature won’t work.

    It is important to mention that in practice, the hot-swapping feature of SATA and PCIe can only happen for external devices. The reason for this is that you cannot hot-swap a device in an enclosed laptop for example.
  2. They are both backward compatible. This means that you can install a new generation PCIe or SATA drive into an older generation interface. 

    For example, you can install a PCIe 4.0 SSD into a PCIe 3.0 interface. However, the consequence is that the PCIe 4.0 SSD will be limited to the transfer speed of the PCIe 3.0 interface. 
  3. SATA SSDs are more affordable compared to PCIe SSDs. Because the PCIe interface offers enhanced speed and low latency, PCIe SSDs are pretty expensive.

    Meanwhile, SATA SSDs  – even though they are adequately fast – don’t cost anywhere close to PCIe SSDs. In actual fact, when I wrote this article in June 2022, a 1 TB SATA SSD had a starting price of $69.

    In comparison, a 500 GB PCIe SSD had a starting price of $99. 
  4. Unlike PCIe drives, SATA drives have low power consumption. Laptops that use PCIe devices tend to drain out of battery quite fast.

    However, that’s not the case for laptops that use SATA drives. In fact, if you continuously transfer data on your SATA SSD laptop, there shouldn’t be any change in how the battery drains out. 
  5. PCIe drives are best for high-end gaming. Although SATA drives are decent for gaming, PCIe drives do a better job.

    This is because the PCIe interface offers extremely low latency and outstanding read/write speed. Hence, if the SSD and GPU in your gaming computer are connected via a PCIe interface, it should offer outstanding gaming performance. 

Cons of SATA vs PCIe 

  1. Unlike SATA SSDs, PCIe SSDs offer low storage capacities. The largest-capacity consumer-based PCIe SSD that you will find in the market is 8 TB. This is pretty low compared to the 32 TB that its SATA counterpart offers.
  2. They don’t support older operating systems. Older operating systems such as Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP don’t work with SATA or PCIe by default.

    However, in case you need these operating systems on your computer, you have to install the PCIe or SATA driver. 
  3. Unlike SATA, PCIe offers a limited number of slots. On a PC’s motherboard, you will find several SATA slots for connecting multiple SATA drives. 

    However, there are barely enough PCIe slots on a computer’s motherboard for connecting multiple PCIe devices. 
  4. SATA requires a bay for installation, unlike PCIe. You can easily insert PCIe drives into a motherboard without the need for a bay.

    However, you can’t do that with SATA drives as they require a bay for installation. This makes the installation process of SATA drives quite difficult compared to its PCIe counterparts. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Is A SATA SSD?

A SATA SSD is an SSD that is connected to a computer’s motherboard via a SATA interface. 

2. What Is The Full Meaning Of SATA?

The full meaning of SATA is Serial Advanced Technology Attachment.

3. How Many SATA Slots Can I Find On A Computer Motherboard? 

The number of SATA slots on a motherboard depends on the size of the computer. However, most computer motherboards come with four to eight SATA slots. 

4. Which Is Better Between A SATA SSD And A PCIe SSD? 

A PCIe SSD offers better performance and speed compared to a SATA SSD. 
Moreover, the more lanes a PCIe device supports, the faster it will be able to send and receive data. 

However, SATA SSDs are cheaper than PCIe SSDs. That’s not all, they also offer a larger storage capacity than PCIe SSDs. 

5. What Is PCIe Used For? 

PCIe is a high-speed bus standard interface for connecting peripheral devices to a computer’s motherboard. Examples of these peripheral devices are sound cards, video cards, Ethernet cards, and SSD. 

6. What Is The PCI Special Interest Group? 

The PCI Special Interest Group (PCI-SIG) is an organization committed to the improvement and development of PCI standards. Based in Oregon, this organization ensures that PCI standards meet new technology requirements. 

7. Is PCIe A SSD?

No, it isn’t. Rather, it is a high-speed bus standard interface that connects an SSD to a computer’s motherboard. 

8. When Was The PCIe Interface Announced?

The PCIe interface was announced in 2003 by the PCI Special Interest Group  (PCI-SIG). 

9. What Does PCIe Stand For?

PCIe stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect Express

10. Is SATA Backward Compatible? 

Yes. As with the PCIe interface, the SATA Interface is backward compatible. 

Therefore, you should be able to connect a new generation SATA drive to a computer using an older generation SATA interface. For instance, you can connect a SATA 3.0 HDD to a computer that features a SATA 2.0 interface. 

My Final Thoughts

SATA vs PCIe: My Final Thoughts

SATA and PCIe are both great connection interfaces that have a decent transfer speed and various generations. However, PCIe is a better connection interface. 

This is because it offers enhanced speed and lower latency. Sadly, it isn’t available on older computer motherboards, unlike the SATA interface that you can find on almost any motherboard. 

Besides, SATA drives are cheaper than PCIe drives. Nevertheless, deciding between a SATA drive and a PCIe drive depends on your budget, preference, and usage. 

I hope that I’ve been able to explain SATA vs PCIe and how they compare to each other. I also hope you found this article understandable and easy to read.

If you did, kindly share your thoughts with our community platform at Itechguides Community. You may also ask questions or make comments regarding this article at Itechguides Community.

Finally, you may find other helpful articles on our Storage & Disk Technology Explained page.

References and Further Reading

  1. – Difference Between PCIe and SATA
  2. – SATA vs. PCIe: What’s the difference?
  3. – SATA Vs PCIe – What are the Differences?
  4. – PCIe vs. SATA SSDs: Which Storage Drive Is Best?
  5. – PCIe SSD vs. SATA SSD: Which Is The Better One For You [MiniTool News]
  6. – Serial ATA
  7. – SAS, SATA or PCIe: Know your Interface
  8. – M.2 vs PCIe: Pros, Cons & Differences (Especially for SSDs)
  9. – PCIe vs. SATA SSDs
  10. – SATA Hard Drive Explained: Is SATA Better Than Other Storage Interfaces?
  11. – What’s the difference between SATA, PCIe, NVMe, and M.2?
  12. – PCIe SSD vs. SATA
  13. – PCIe SSD Explained: The Future Of PC Storage?
  14. Itechguides Community

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